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Study Reveals Less Than Half of LGBT Workers Are Out at Work

Out At Work

An HRC survey found that LGBT workers fear that coming out would damage their relationships with coworkers. 

A study done by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation revealed that over half of LGBT employees have remained closeted in their respective workplaces, which shows little to no increase in the number of LGBT employees out at work over the past decade.

Despite the substantial strides in equality that the LGBT community has made over the past ten years, including the nationwide establishment of marriage equality in 2015, the study reveals that LGBT workers still experience discrimination substantial enough to prevent people from feeling comfortable enough to come out to their colleagues.

"While LGBTQ-inclusive corporate policies are becoming the norm, LGBTQ workers too often face a climate of bias in their workplace," said Deena Fidas, director of HRC's Workplace Equality Program. "LGBTQ employees are still avoiding making personal and professional connections at work because they fear coming out - and that hurts not only that employee, but the company as a whole. Even the best-of-the-best private sector employers with top-rated policies and practices must do more to nurture a climate of inclusion for all."

According to the survey, titled "A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide," 46 percent of LGBT workers claim to be closeted at work; one in five LGBT workers say their colleagues have told them to dress in a more feminine or masculine way; 53 percent of LGBT workers hear jokes about gay men or lesbians in their workplace; and 31 percent of LGBT workers report feeling unhappy or depressed at work.

The study also revealed that the most reported reason that LGBT workers don't come forward to their superiors about their discomfort is that they don't believe doing so would bring any change to the work environment, and they fear damaging the relationships they have with colleagues.

The survey showed that 45 percent of LGBT workers agreed that the enforcement of any nondiscrimination policy depends on their supervisor's personal inclinations toward LGBT people, with 13 percent of LGBT workers expressing that they feel they would be terminated due to their workplace's lack of tolerance toward LGBTQ people.

Other reasons for LGBT people remaining closeted in the workplace include a fear of being stereotyped, a hesitation to make people feel uncomfortable, and the concern that "People might think I'm attracted to them just because I am LGBTQ."

The study shows that LGBT people are still highly sexualized in the workplace, with the majority of the 46 percent of non-LGBT workers who don't feel very comfortable with having a LGBT colleague revealing that the source of their discomfort was that they didn't want to hear about their coworker's sex life. After surveying out LGBT workers, HRC found that 18 percent reported someone at work making a sexually inappropriate comment toward them because they thought their sexual orientation or gender identity made it OK.

This is the third study HRC has conducted since 2015 regarding the levels of acceptance that LGBT employees feel in the workplace. The previous two studies, titled "Degrees of Equality" and "The Cost of the Closet and the Reward of Inclusion," revealed that over half of LGBT workers were closeted in their places of work.

Some statistics from the study showed encouraging signs of improvements toward acceptance since the previous two surveys. For example, one of the topics the most recent study was heavily concerned with was the "chit-chat" that takes place during work that, although not related to work itself, is integral in fostering dynamics, rapports, and relationships among colleagues.

Some of the most heavily covered topics in these discussions include children, along with spouses, relationships, or dating. Whereas the 2012 study showed that 43 percent of non-LGBT people expressed discomfort in hearing about an LGBT coworker's dating, that number is now down to 36 percent. The same 2012 study revealed that 75 percent of non-LGBT workers believed it to be unprofessional to talk about sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, and that number is down to 59 percent today.

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